Constitution Day: The Forgotten History of the Celebration of America’s Founding Document

Constitution DayConstitution Day is a dual observance: It celebrates both the day that the United States Constitution was adopted, as well as honors naturalized citizens of our country. Prior to 2004, the day was known as Citizenship Day. Its name was changed due to an amendment attached to a spending bill by Sen. Robert Byrd.

While there was an archaic form of the holiday first celebrated in Iowa schools in 1911, a movement to adopt the day was advanced by the Sons of the American Revolution. This organization appointed a committee to lobby for the day that included figures such as then-Vice President Calvin CoolidgeJohn D. Rockefeller, and newly minted World War I hero General John J. Pershing. However, the origins of the day actually lie in the late 1930s.

“I Am An American Day” Becomes “Constitution Day”

It’s quite an American story. For the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the organizers were promoting a song called “I Am An American.” The songwriters attracted the attention of Arthur Pine, the head of a self-named PR firm. One of his clients was Gray Gordon, the bandleader who would be performing the song at the World’s Fair. To publicize the song, he worked together with a local newspaper to celebrate the first “I Am An American Day.”

During the same year, William Randolph Hearst used his newspapers to advocate for the creation of an American Citizenship Day. It was the nexus of these two phenomena that prompted Congress to make the third Sunday in May “I Am An American Day.” The first one of these was celebrated in 1940. In 1944, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service began promoting this day.

A 16-minute short was produced and released into American cinemas, and in 1947, a Hearst-produced News of the Day promoted the holiday. By 1949, the Governor of every existing state had issued a proclamation in favor of Constitution Day, which was basically the same thing. In 1952, Congress moved the day to September 17th, and renamed it Citizenship Day, which it remained until Sen. Byrd had it renamed in 2004.

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